Winning streak goes on as Northgate end another
Northgate 3 – 1 City Church
SIX wins from six in the league for City Church going into this game made them the team to beat, and probably favourites despite being the visitors. Seven days after seven weeks between games, Northgate were looking to join the dots and claim their first win against top half opposition which would enable them to look more at those above them than behind.
In a well-balanced and very strong looking squad, Clark started with the familiar 451 formation, with the same back five as at Central North last week: Sharrock, Scott, Hilsden, Clark and Broomhall. The central trio was made up of the same three that started for the win against Audacious; Holden, Slade and Morgan. Lawrie Campbell and Mike Heathcote both return for the first time in 2018 to start on the wings, whilst Owen took up his lone striker role again.
During the warm up, it was clear that whilst the majority of the pitch had held up exceedingly well in recent weather, one of the touchlines was cutting up quickly and could cause problems if stuck with the ball. Thankfully however, the surface had little impact on the game other than causing the ball to skid quickly away with a slightly slippy top to the grass. After a cagey opening five minutes with no real chances but plenty of energy used, Northgate knew they were in for an entirely different game to the previous week. It didn’t take too long though for them to settle down and cause some problems. Campbell was hurriedly running everywhere, pinching possession and picking passes out that opened gaps in the City defence that was the tightest in the division having conceded just 8 in their 6 games played. It was Campbell who had the first chance too, as Heathcote flashed a curling ball across the pitch, finding the winger in space only for him to lose his balance and only manage a toe on the ball to put it wide.
Chances began to come thick and fast though with Owen, Morgan and Campbell all missing the target as keeping their footing in the box was seemingly becoming a real problem. City used their pace down the wings to counter but any attacks were dealt with well across the back four, being marshalled well by Sharrock in goal. On around 30 minutes though, for all that Northgate had been on top in terms of possession and chances, it was a familiar tale that led to the first goal. Having spoken about needing to tighten up from set pieces before the game, it was a corner following an excellent Sharrock save that was fizzed in and headed in across goal to break the deadlock. Whilst the frustration was etched across everybody’s faces, it was in fairness a very well taken header rather than an unmarked man such as previous goals have been.
On 30 minutes and a 0-1 down, Clark began the full back rotation with Scott making way for Crank on the right and hoped for a positive reaction from everyone. The midfield trio started to raise their game again and with Holden sitting deeper and controlling the game, Morgan and Slade had more freedom to roam and win big headers, tackles and play some intricate football going forward. Shots began to come more freely again as some lovely link up play through the middle saw Owen place another effort too close to the keeper, Holden battled through a wall of players to flash an effort just wide, and there was a plethora of near misses as chaos continuously ensued every time a long throw came in. Eventually, with just a minute to go until the break, Clark launched another throw into the box and it found it’s way all the way to Owen at the back post who was unmarked and able to nod in to level it up.
Half time came and went with encouragement for everyone. City Church could count themselves lucky to be level at the break and Northgate needed more of the same, but were also wary of their recent record of switching off in the first 10 minutes of second halves. With a knee injury affecting Broomhall, he was forced off which saw a reshuffle of Heathcote to left back, Owen to the left wing and the introduction of Mark Roberts for his first game since September.
Again the game was tight after the restart but with City having taken off the 2016/17 golden boot winner J J Wray, they lacked any direction to spearhead their attacks and instead looked to test Crank and Heathcote down the flanks. Both teams were searching for a little bit of quality to unlock the door and take the lead, but both sets of defences were resolute and letting nothing through. That quality ultimately came though through a goal that would be worthy of winning any game, at any level of football. Wade Crank put a stop to the City winger’s dangerous run and began to switch on his trademark acceleration and darted up the right wing. As he entered the City half he looked up and delivered a wonderful looping ball in towards the edge of the box. Approaching, storming up through the centre was captain Russ Morgan. Without even breaking his stride he careered into the box and met the ball with a thunderous volley that stayed low and flew into the bottom corner past the helpless goalkeeper. Every player on the pitch had to admire the goal and every Northgate man including Sharrock ran up to celebrate with Morgan and Crank on what is another goal of the season nomination from the Tangerine’s leader.
City would not go down without a fight, but such was the quality and belief of Northgate’s performance now that everything they threw at them was held at bay. Clark and Hilsden both made big interceptions at vital moments, and Sharrock was as secure as he has ever been – taking difficult balls into the box and most importantly holding on to the ball amongst onrushing strikers. Even with more free kicks and corners to defend against, the defence held firm and would not be beaten. Morgan and Slade were winning everything in the air, and their long legs looked even more freakish with the amount of lost causes they were winning through lunging slides and stretches. Holden kept his discipline and dug the ball out of many difficult situations also, being the linchpin to change defence into attack in seconds.
With 15 minutes left, J J Wray was reintroduced for City as Scott came back on to replace Heathcote, and City had perhaps their biggest push for an equaliser still to come, Northgate went about their business in the perfect fashion and put the game to bed themselves. As the ball sailed out for a throw on the right hand side, it was Slade who was quickest to react and saw Roberts in acres of space taking advantage of not being offside from a throw. The ball was hurtled down towards him and as the goalkeeper came out there was a collision between the two, but even whilst sat down on the muddy floor Roberts had the presence of mind to swing his leg at the ball and watched as it flew into the empty goal. Another whole-team celebration ensued, underpinning the togetherness that has been forming over the past few months for this new club, and the last few minutes were seen out with relative ease due to the ceaseless effort from everyone in orange.
As the whistle blew, cheers ran out and handshakes all round epitomised the excellent spirit in which this game was played. Three wins in three for Northgate, a record stopped for City Church, and a promise of ‘the results will come’ from Clark truly come to realisation. This will undoubtedly go down as the greatest day of this club’s existence to date, as the effort, character and quality on show was better than ever before and what’s more – it was for the entire 90 minutes. It may only be three more points, but the confidence and belief gained from this match will surely spur on the Gaters. Halfway through the league season, it is now won four and lost three. It is Clark’s hope to, at the very least, replicate that in the next few months and with Poynton the visitors next week, it will time for another big test.
1. James Sharrock (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB / LB)
3. Mark Broomhall (LB)
4. Matt Hilsden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. James Holden (CDM)
7. Lawrie Campbell (RM)
8. Josh Slade (CM)
9. Alex Owen (ST / LM)
10. Russ Morgan (CM)
11. Mike Heathcote (LM / LB)
12. Wade Crank (RB)
13. Mark Roberts (ST)
MAN OF THE MATCH – Russ Morgan